Kangaroo Care Day: Skin to Skin & Maternal Separation During COVID-19

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Happy International Kangaroo Care Day!

With so much research focused on preventing the spread of COVID-19, NICUs throughout the world have instituted lockdown restrictions that limit staff and visitors at the bedside.  These restrictions are preventing volunteers, support services like Music Therapy, and in some cases, even parents from entering the NICU.

As a NICU nurse, and one who has spent my career focusing on promoting an evidence-based practice that optimizes brain development, I can’t help but have this unsettling feeling that all of these restrictions may have serious neurodevelopmental consequences for our patients and their families. Arguably the most serious of these is the barriers created by separating mothers from their babies.

Make no mistake, the biological bond between mother and baby is profound and the ramifications of separating the mother-baby dyad have been well documented in the literature. Share on X

In animal studies, separations measured in minutes in the early neonatal period cause permanent changes in the developing brain (Csaszar-Nagy & Bokkon, 2018).

So I can’t help but ask…Is all of this mother-baby separation really evidence-based, or are we doing more harm than good?

Of course, if a parent has a known or suspected case of COVID-19, they should not enter the NICU until they have been medically cleared.  However, there seems to be a growing misconception that skin to skin isn’t safe for healthy mom’s “just in case” they’ve been exposed or that it somehow will increase the baby’s risk of getting sick.

Skin to skin is just as important and evidence-based as it ever was, and healthy moms should be encouraged to practice skin to skin early and often.  Additionally, if an alternate caregiver has been designated, consideration to offering kangaroo care to that caregiver should be discussed with the family to provide critical skin to skin contact to the neonate.

Caregivers should practice some basic hygiene precautions during their time at the bedside (and always), such as:

  • Wash hands before and after skin to skin.
  • Wear an approved mask where available.
  • Practice good respiratory hygiene by covering your nose and mouth with a bent elbow or tissue when you cough or sneeze.
  • Wipe surfaces with approved disinfectants, and use approved cell phone covers.

So on this 9th International Kangaroo Care Day (and every day), remember to promote skin to skin early and often!

Do you have a Kangaroo initiative to share? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at: info@synapsecare.com OR sign up here to watch our May 13th Synapse Community Networking Call where we heard from a few different NICU teams who are doing amazing things to increase skin-to-skin and out-of-the-box time in their NICU’s.


For more reading on maternal separation and COVID-19, check out the links below:





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